We found the carcass of a young cow in the early hours whilst out on a drive. With seemingly no cat around, we approached the kill to investigate. It was very clear where the Jaguar had sunk its teeth into the vertebrae of the cow. Jaguars have the strongest bite of all felids, capable of biting down with tremendous pressure. They say that they possess twice the strength of a lion and the second strongest of all mammals after the Spotted Hyena. After investigating the puncture wounds I could see first hand the remarkable power of these cats.
We took notes and photographs and placed an infrared camera trap nearby to the carcass. Firstly, we wanted to see if the Jaguar would return to the fresh carcass, and secondly which Jaguar had been responsible for this latest kill.
We returned late that night to see if we would get a first hand view of the cat in question. Wet conditions, however, made the approach very difficult and we soon were bogged down in the mud. We decided to let the camera trap do its job. We returned the next day to retrieve the memory card from the camera trap. The carcass had been fed on and dragged a couple of meters away. Fresh tracks of a female Jaguar indicated that we had probably missed her by a few hours.
The short sequences of video captured by the camera trap tell a fascinating story. During the course of the night a large male Jaguar, known by the project as Fantasma (Ghost), appears out of the dark. He confidently walks past the kill with little interest in the fresh carcass; he barely even acknowledges that it is there!
Roughly two and a half hours later and a female Jaguar, known as Esperanza (Hope) arrives. She ultimately drags the carcass away and feeds. This leads me to believe it was this female who killed the cow in the first place. She can be told in the videos by the presence of a radio collar. This collar was fitted back in October 2012 and allows us to use telemetry to give us an idea of her position. The habitat in which she uses is so difficult to navigate through, that this collar allows us a sneak peak into her secretive life.
Below you can view the video sequence captured by the camera trap. Please note that the fence in view is a cattle fence and does NOT impede the movements of the Jaguar.
The reason for the large male ignoring a perfectly good meal astounds me. In all my experience with big cats around the world I have never seen a cat show no interest at all in available fresh meat. I have seen them sniff around and decide the meat was not to their liking or too old. I have also seen cats try to locate a kill by smell and narrowly miss the position, but I have never seen a cat simply find a kill and show no interest in it…not even sniff around or paw at the skin!
Yet again, another fascinating bit of behaviour being uncovered by the Oncafari team, based here in the Pantanal at Caiman Ecological Refuge. We would love to hear any comments or theories as to why he may have simply walked on by.
Written by Adam Bannister
Photograph by Diogo Lucatelli
Camera trap: Projeto Oncafari